2016-01-20 / News

County’s freshmen senators take charge as session opens

By Jim McConnell

Chase Chase Not content to sit quietly and take their marching orders from political elders, Chesterfield’s two new state senators have thrown themselves into the fray early in the 2016 General Assembly session.

“Freshmen [lawmakers] are usually encouraged to lay back in their first year, but I’m only here for four years. Why am going to waste one?” said Sen. Amanda Chase, who made her presence felt at the Capitol last week by tackling the hot-button issue of gun control – and, in the process, putting both Virginia’s governor and attorney general in the crosshairs.

Chase introduced a bill that would require the commonwealth to honor concealed handgun permits issued by all U.S. states and territories, provided that the permit holder carries a government-issued photo ID and displays it on demand to a law-enforcement officer.

The bill aims to reverse Attorney General Mark Herring’s announcement that as of Feb. 1, Virginia will no longer recognize concealed carry permits from 25 of the 30 states with which it currently holds reciprocal agreements.

Sturtevant Sturtevant Gun control advocates say the action is necessary to protect citizens of the commonwealth from residents of states with far more lax requirements for carrying a concealed handgun.

Republican lawmakers, however, have criticized it as an attempt to circumvent Virginia’s GOP-controlled legislature – House Speaker William Howell said that Herring “is damaging the integrity of the office he holds” – and unilaterally restrict citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

Delegate Lee Ware (R-Powhatan), who represents part of Chesterfield, filed a “universal reciprocity” bill in the House of Delegates in advance of the current General Assembly session.

When Chase learned of Ware’s bill, she contacted him and said she would sponsor a similar measure in the Senate. Ware supported her efforts; so did leaders of the Senate Republican Caucus.

Chase was pleasantly surprised at having been encouraged to introduce legislation so early in her first term.

“They know nobody is going to outwork me,” she said.

Gun control was a significant factor in the hotly contested campaign that sent attorney and Richmond School Board member Glen Sturtevant to the state Senate last November.

An advocacy group funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of Democratic candidate Dan Gecker, arguing that Virginians would be less safe if Sturtevant was elected.

Sturtevant’s victory enabled Republicans to maintain a two-seat advantage in the Senate. But he already has broken with party leadership on another controversial issue.

In his first public comments since being sworn into office last week, Sturtevant made headlines when he said he would oppose an attempt to oust a sitting Virginia Supreme Court justice.

Evoking the independent spirit of his predecessor, newly retired Sen. John Watkins, Sturtevant acknowledged that Gov. Terry McAuliffe had mishandled the interim appointment of Justice Jane Marum Roush, but refused to endorse any action that infringes on the independence of the judiciary.

“Politics should simply play no role in the picking of judges,” he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Republicans in both chambers of the General Assembly were frustrated that McAuliffe didn’t consult them before appointing Roush last summer to replace retiring Justice Leroy Millette Jr.

Noting that authority for judicial appointments falls to the legislature, Republican leaders have refused to interview Roush for a full, 12-year term on the Supreme Court. They instead want to appoint Rossie Alston Jr., a former chief judge of the Prince William County Circuit Court.

Throughout the campaign, Sturtevant consistently opposed “politicization” of the courts and sought a resolution acceptable to both sides.

During a telephone interview with the Observer last week, Sturtevant made it clear that he places fealty to his constituents ahead of party allegiance.

“At the end of the day, I answer to the citizens of the 10th District,” he added.

Without Sturtevant’s vote, Republicans likely won’t be able to get Alston’s nomination approved in a tightly divided Senate. Now the question is whether Sturtevant will face political retribution from his own party leadership.

Sturtevant was assigned to two prominent committees – Commerce and Labor and Courts and Justice – for the 2016 session.

Watkins said it was almost unheard of for a freshman lawmaker to get such committee assignments. Asked if it was an attempt by Republican leaders to immediately establish Sturtevant’s bona fides with 10th District voters, Watkins chuckled.

“I think it’s more than an attempt,” he said. “They accomplished it.”

With the departure of Watkins and Sen. Steve Martin, who lost to Chase in last June’s Republican primary, Chesterfield lost more than 40 years of combined experience in the General Assembly.

While Chase acknowledged there’s a learning curve for her new job, she insisted Chesterfield is in good hands with its new senators.

“Because of how many new people have come into the Senate, we have a platform we might not have had before,” she added. “We’re working hard to get things done.”

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